Wild Naliboki Winter Trip: two weeks in January 2020

Day 1: Friday 10/01

The first day starts great, we drive to see some bison, and there they are. Three males in the mist in an open field with old oaks, it is a beautiful sight. Afterwards, we start walking to check some camera traps next to a small canal. We stop at a former wolf den, while Vadim is explaining to us that there were wolf pups one spring in this den, we see two heads popping up from behind a ridge. Two wolves! They pass us at 15 to 20 metres, vanishing behind another ridge. As we are grinning at each other, the head of the male head pops up again to have a short look at us out of curiosity. We are astonished, the wolves were so close! What a magical start for this winter trip, seeing wolves at such a proximity while walking is a unique experience.

When we check the camera traps at the canal, we see a large pack of wolves passing there on the pictures, the pack of the female “Torn-ear”. Vadim explains to us that the two wolves we saw were probably a pair, having their territory close to the one of this pack, with the canal forming a border. The wolf pair came here to mark their territory border and hurried back when they ran into us.

On the camera, we also see many beautiful pictures of lynx, showing clearly the overlapping territories of lynx and wolf and the strong competition there must be between these carnivores. It is an unknown female, which Vadim decides to call “Pryhazhunia” or “Beautiful woman”.

To conclude the day, we visit an abandoned hamlet at the edge of a large swamp, where a bear has marked all electricity poles with scratches to clarify the place is his territory. There are no new marks on the poles, which makes sense since the bear should be in hibernation now. Three abandoned houses give the location a special atmosphere, Vadim remembers the people who lived there. At the other edge of the hamlet clearing, we spot a female elk who is looking at us from behind some shrubs. In twilight, we return to the cars and drive back to the field station, impressed by our first day in Naliboki.

Observations: 2 wolves, 8 roe deer, 3 bison, 4 elk, vole spec., white-tailed eagle, raven, Eurasian bullfinches

Day 2: Saturday 11/01

Today we see many birds: waxwings, Eurasian bullfinches, black grouse and rough legged buzzard. We make two walks in which Vadim shows us some more wolf dens, where he found wolf pups previous summer. He explains and shows us the different types of dens they use and how they frequently relocate the pups to prevent them from being found by other carnivores or trampled by ungulates.

When driving back, we pass on a newly established road and see plenty of lynx tracks in the dunes of excavated sand next to the road. Clearly, a mother was playing here with her kitten as we see big tracks and smaller ones, jumping up and down the dunes. Nearby, there are two pipes below the road, about which Vadim tells us, they are favourite hiding places and resting places of lynx. He decides to put three camera traps, one next to the sand with the tracks and one at each pipe. We will check them again next week, exciting!

Observations: elk, 7 roe deer, 2 red deer, waxwing, rough legged buzzard, 13 black grouse, yellowhammer, fieldfare, great spotted woodpecker, mistle thrush, raven

Day 3: Sunday 12/01

When we leave the field station in the morning, we see some elk in the pine forest, as we do almost every morning. Still, they are intriguing animals. Mostly, they see us when we see them, and they stare at us, just like we stare at them until they decide we look more dangerous than interesting and run off in their special hopping way. Further on the road we see a white-tailed eagle, which we had also seen before, but still, what a big and mighty bird! Today we make a long walk in swamp forests and richer deciduous forests. When we are walking along a small canal, three otters notice us and dive away in the reeds. Most of us saw them quite well before they were gone. Another mammal species that we have seen, and it is only our third day in Naliboki, fantastic!